It’s summer. Meaning the gaming landscape is barren as Ann Coulter’s soul. So, what better time to introduce Random Select, in which we bring many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten gaming lore back to the front page for further examination, extra attention/sales for shoulda-been-classics, or to see if time has taken some of our sacred cows out back for a good Anton Chigurhing. But mostly, we just wanna keep shooting the shit about games when there’s nothing current on the docket. Enjoy!
The Game: Mirror’s Edge (2008)
System: XBox 360, PS3, PC
Buy It On Amazon: RIGHT HERE
The Premise: In the near future, a gleaming utopian society has been created. Crime is non-existent, at the cost of personal freedom. Because of the complete control over the airwaves, the resistance movement hires Runners–highly trained parkour experts–to carry messages and packages across the city. One of these runners, Faith, gets the resistance in over its head when her cop sister is framed for the murder of a reformer mayoral candidate.
Is It Any Good?: Frustratingly good. When I reviewed Capcom’s Remember Me about a month ago, my little excerpt said it was the worst game you should probably own anyway. This is firmly in that same category, though it’s also, objectively, a lesser game.
The big problem is that Mirror’s Edge feels like a Kickstarted proof of concept game. DICE has a stellar set of ideas here; a first person parkour title was something that needed to happen, and needed to not be in a typical brown and gray environment, and it needed a game to test the waters and see if it can support an 8 hour experience. It can, but not at this level of tarnish. Even still, Mirror’s Edge neither looks, plays, or acts like any game produced this gen.
For starters, just look at Faith herself. She’s a tiny, athletic, plain looking–except for the tats–Asian girl with realistic proportions, dressed like–brace yourselves–she’s going to be running for her life all day. She feels like a girl who could exist, and 5 years after the fact, seeing that woman standing on the rooftops at the game’s start by itself feels like a heroic act. We don’t need this girl to be sexy. We need her capable. We need her strong. And no matter whatever the fuck fanboy otaku think, her being a round eyed beauty queen with big tits has no application to what this girl does to survive.
And then there’s the city itself. Gleaming. White. Basic colors pop out of the distance from miles away, and thank Christ for it, considering how much trouble you’ll have aiming for those areas later. There’s a visual gimmick here meant to simulate how the human eye adjusts to sudden changes in lighting with blurring and subtle shifting when going in and outdoors. It’s simply DISTINCT. Again, if I could thank someone at DICE directly, I would.
And then there’s the sound. The soundtrack could’ve gone overboard with the electronica, and no one would’ve been surprised or disappointed, really, but instead, even in the game’s adrenaline-pumping chases, there’s a subtlety and restraint, a foreboding, held entirely in the bass. The game’s quieter moments are ethereal, trancy, lifting. These are usually the game’s open moments of freedom, and it makes this even more a place to spend time in. Even when the game gets foot to ass difficult or obtuse–there’s a half-built skyscraper late in the game that comes to mind that you can just hear the developers cackling at you in the background–it creates an atmosphere of peace that no other first person action game has ever achieved.
The central mechanic is where the game runs into problems and brilliance all at once. The free running has the right idea. In its best moments, the game gives you a vast expanse of urban sprawl to glide, jump, flip and dive across at full speed. Most of the game isn’t contingent on killing everything in sight, so finding the most efficient, stylish route out of any room is your gameplay, and it leads to a situation where despite a fairly linear experience, no two players will find the same route through it all. The obstacles the game puts in front of you seem antithetical to that idea at first, and yet, after a while, you start getting a Runner’s Eye of your own. You can just tell what platforms need to be reached, and how, and where to jump. When you’ve gotten the sprint to its maximum speed, you’ll do favors in alleys to sustain it.
IF you can sustain it, that is. The problem here is that Mirror’s Edge is also home to a picnic basket full of bad collision detection, Mass Effect 1-level attempts to hide long load times, and cramped puzzle solving platforming which absolutely kills any buzz a previous section may have given. In addition, I said most of the game isn’t contingent on kills because there are a scattered few sections where the player isn’t allowed to progress until everyone in the room is taken out. Now, it’s not like Faith is defenseless, and I get where the game was going with there. Faith has some basic martial arts she’s capable of, a flowy, but tricky disarm mechanic, and some truly awesome parkour based takedowns, and you do have the ability to pick up an enemy’s gun for limited use, but Faith is not a fighter or a soldier. So, the shooting being wildly inaccurate to the point of discouragement fits the game. But it also means these sections where it’s one unarmed girl against 5 or 6 Battlefield rejects are like being punched in the taint till you can’t get punched no more. These sections are just sadistically unforgiving, with 3 or 4 steps into a room without a gameplan meaning it’s game over, and all you want to do is just get back to the free running.
Luckily, DICE knows the game’s strengths, and included what I’d argue is the real reason to own and continue owning Mirror’s Edge: Time Trials. Ordinarily, only the obsessive need apply when a game tells you to beat a stage in a specific amount of time as opposed to just taking ones leisurely time to enjoy the scenery, but in this game’s case, when the game starts giving the player sections of game with no cops, no narrative, and just sets them loose to race themselves, or the ghosts of others across the city, one can’t help but feel we’ve found paydirt for what this game could and should be. There’s even DLC that puts Faith in a completely abstract environment for a set of specially designed trials. It’s just pure, free running gameplay, with no hindrances, and minimal penalties for screwing up.
So, a great, unique gameplay mechanic, a simplistically designed protagonist who doesn’t trade on sex appeal in any way, a calming, soaring aesthetic, and it pisses off Japanese racists/misogynists. That vs the fact that it may raise your blood pressure every couple hours.
Yeah. Worth it.
Bonus Points: If you like this, there’s a slicker-than-hell 2.5D side-scrolling mobile port built from the ground up specifically for iOS and Windows Phones. If you’re ready to take all those Endless Runner skills to the next level, there’s your game.
There’s a six-issue DC comic series based on the game. And yeah, Rhianna Pratchett wrote those too.
The game has the full-on seal of approval from founding member of the parkour movement Sebastien “That Dude Who Outran James Bond” Foucan. So much so that he actually has a bugfuck insane time trial ghost that, yes, you can download. Look for gamertag/PSN name CatchFoucan. Good luck with that.
Oh yeah, and didja see this yet?